I’ve read that ravens and crows often show appreciation to people who feed them by gifting bright or shiny objects, leaving them where the human(s) will find them. Pretty rocks, buttons, beads, earrings, sticks.
My evolving fascination with the raven pair that consider my house, yard and field their territory has led me to do more reading about human-corvid relationships. I joined The Official Crow, Raven & Other Corvids Fan Page on Facebook a few weeks ago, a page full of wonderful photos and stories of people feeding and forging relationships with these wonderful birds. People often post photos of the gifts they’ve received from a bird.
It’s nice to know I’m not crazy, that there are many others fascinated by corvids.
My last post about “my” ravens ended with the hope that they might leave me a gift, that I would be checking my yard for bright and shiny objects.
Well, I think I found just such a gift! Or, more precisely, Conall did, and brought it to me.
Here’s how it played out:
On March 30th, I was in my home office and heard Finn barking his Go away, ravens! bark. I went outside and around to the north side of the yard to see the focus of Finn’s ire: a raven perched atop a nearby young pine tree, eyeing the vole Conall caught earlier. I had moved the vole to a spot atop the snow in the north side of the yard.
As I stood watching, the raven took flight from the tree and glided right overhead, turning to follow the contour of the yard. I smiled and waved as it flew over, so close, hoping it would understand my welcome and encouragement, despite Finn’s barking.
I quickly went inside for my phone, hoping one or both ravens might return for the vole. They did fly overhead, but with all of us in the yard, they wisely decided to wait before retrieving the vole.
Meanwhile, a turkey vulture joined the scene, circling high over the open fields where the ravens often fly. Finn watched it as it soared. At least his vision is still keen, I thought, relieved, given his recent loss of hearing. Does he know the difference between ravens and vultures?
Certain that the raven saw and wanted the vole, I thought about blocking the dog door to keep Finn inside while waiting to see if one of the ravens would scoop up Conall’s vole with just Conall and I remaining outside. It was early evening; mornings and evenings are when the ravens swing by, checking the yard and field for offerings.
A day earlier, I watched as one of the ravens hopped within a few feet of the fence as Conall observed quietly from the deck, the raven likely checking to see if I’d tossed more apple pieces out.
Clearly, the ravens don’t see Conall as threatening. They may even realize that he’s the vole catcher, provider of some of their treats. I think the ravens now also realize that Finn, while noisy, can’t harm them as long as the fence is between him and them.
But what if the treat – a vole caught by Conall – is on the inside of the fence?
After getting video of Finn watching the turkey buzzard soaring, I returned inside. Finn soon followed. I downloaded the video and a few photos.
Immediately after the download, sitting at my computer in front of the north-facing window, I saw one of the ravens approach from the north, flying low toward the house.
Sensing it wanted the vole, I grabbed my phone just in time to capture a series of photos as it flew over, then snatched the vole from the yard, flying off with the vole in its beak, over the fence and landing in the field where – I assume – it waited for its mate to join it. Photo quality is poor, as I was shooting through windows, one side covered in a screen.
Conall went closer to the fence to watch the raven.
The raven was unperturbed.
But when Finn – who had been snoozing behind me in my office – saw me stand up to take photos out the window, he knew something was up. Crashing through the dog door, Finn created a loud racket that startled the raven into taking off with the vole. Conall watched the raven depart as Finn rounded the corner of the house, searching for…he wasn’t sure what, because by then the raven was out of sight.
Conall, aware of what had just transpired, went to sniff the spot where the raven had briefly landed before snatching the vole. Finn ran by, surveying the yard’s perimeter, keeping us all safe from the ravens.
What I took away from this scene was that the raven was willing to swoop down and take the vole with Conall outside in the yard, so long as Finn wasn’t there.
Exciting stuff! I went to bed happy, and eager to see where this dog-human-raven relationship might go. Although, I have decided I won’t do what many people do – regularly feed the ravens peanuts, dog or cat food, or other foods – because I will be moving soon. I don’t want to create an expectation that likely won’t be fulfilled by the next occupants, disappointing these ravens. (I do plan to alert the purchasers to the possibilities, though, in case they love birds as much as I do.)
On April Fool’s Day morning (April 1st, for those who don’t have this tradition), the boys noticed one of the ravens in the field to the west, looking for marrow bones and apple bits. I eat an apple most days, but only recently realized I could toss the core (less the seeds) into the field where I toss the marrow bones, another treat for the ravens. Waste not, want not! Finn took issue with the raven’s proximity and barked loudly enough to cause it to fly off, landing on the neighbor’s garage, their safe perch.
Pretty normal interaction as of late.
It was later that day, though, that things got exponentially more interesting.
A daily routine for me is to head out into the yard after the boys have had their dinner and toss their toys for games of fetch. Some days they’re more into the game than others. Once they tire of playing, I grab the shovel and start hurling dog bombs (poop) from the yard over the fence into the field. This requires that I scan the yard – snow in winter, grass the rest of the year – pretty carefully. Not only do I not want to step in a pile, but I don’t want the boys to, either, as they play in the yard.
I consider myself to be very observant. I usually notice when something is different, off, out of place, or new.
That evening, as I did my dog bomb patrol, I noticed a bit of bright green lichen sitting on the snow in the north side of the yard. It’s a type of lichen I see up in the forest all the time, so it was familiar. I ignored it.
Later than evening, just before sunset, Conall brought that bit of lichen inside. He came into my office while I was at the computer. I heard him approach and turned to look. The way he held his body and head, I knew he had something in his mouth, something he wanted me to see. My initial guess was a vole, although he hasn’t brought one inside to show me since he was young. As I watched, he opened his mouth and that same little bit of bright green lichen I’d seen in the yard earlier dropped to the floor.
That’s odd, I thought. When Conall was a pup he sometimes brought a stick from the yard into the house. But in the past several years? No sticks, no plants. Not his thing.
By way of context, over the years I’ve rewarded Conall for bringing a toy, left out in the yard from an earlier play session, inside before nightfall. When he does this, he gets a treat, as does Finn (when one dog earns a treat, both dogs get a treat). I often forget about the toys being outside. Conall will quietly bring one inside and deposit it on the floor behind me as I work at the computer. If I don’t notice right away, I certainly do the next time I get up, and after picking up the toy and putting it away, I give both boys a treat.
Dropping the lichen on the floor, Conall gave me a look, as if to say, You want this, and I deserve a treat from bringing it to you.
Baffled, I simply laughed at him, picked up the bit of lichen, and tossed it into the garbage. I gave him a treat because he clearly thought he deserved one. Finn got a treat as well.
It took me a couple of hours, thoughts percolating in my brain, before I put two-and-two together: noticing the bit of lichen on the snow in the yard earlier that afternoon, unusual enough that it caught my eye; Conall bringing it inside, something he’s never done before; and the initial location of the lichen on the snow being almost exactly where I put Conall’s voles for the ravens to take. It all added up to something…special.
Was the bright green bit of lichen a gift from the ravens? Did Conall notice it and bring it inside because it held the scent of a raven?
I think so, on both counts.
The next day, to verify that my conclusion that the bit of lichen was a gift wasn’t completely off, I surveyed the entire yard. I didn’t expect to find another piece of lichen. They grow on pine tree bark, and there are no pine trees near my yard.
But I did find one. Just one new, solitary piece of lichen. In the same location where I saw the first one, the one Conall brought inside the evening before, the one I tossed into the garbage.
Sensing something unusual and noteworthy occurring, I took a photo of the second piece of lichen on the snow in the yard, then brought it inside to recreate the scene when Conall dropped the first bit on the floor behind my desk.
As the boys and I ran in the forest this morning, I paid close attention to where I saw the lichen, both on the snow near tree trunks and still clinging to tree bark. My sense was that, even with a stiff wind, the lichen wouldn’t travel far from the tree on which it had grown. My observations confirmed that.
Doing a bit of research this evening on what sort of lichen it is (because I like to be an accurate reporter of facts), I got chills, in a good way.
This particular lichen that the ravens gifted me? It’s commonly known as wolf moss, even though technically it’s a lichen. It’s name is Letharia vulpina.
My ravens brought me gifts having to do with wolves!
Returning home after our morning run in the forest, I headed out into the yard to once again check if I could find any other bits of lichen, still wondering if they might arrive on the wind rather than by the beak of a grateful raven.
Right after stepping off the deck I found a new bit of lichen. Close to the house. On the side of the yard where I toss the marrow bones and apple bits.
Another gift? This is the third bit of lichen in as many days, days that have been calm, with no winds. How else could the lichen get into the yard?
I searched the entire yard and didn’t find any other bits of lichen, nor any other wind-blown tree debris for that matter, such as pine needles, branches or cones. I didn’t expect to; the nearest pines are too far away.
I have no other plausible explanation for how these three pieces of lichen arrived in my yard over the span of three days.
I’m convinced these bits of “wolf moss” are my thank you from the ravens for giving them the voles and apples. They apparently like to offer bright or pretty objects as gifts, and right now, “wolf moss” lichen is the brightest, prettiest thing available in the forest as winter transitions into spring.
Or, maybe the ravens chose this particular gift because Conall is wolf-like in appearance, and wolves and ravens have always had a symbiotic relationship.
I don’t know. I can never know. And I’m fine with that. It’s way too much fun imagining – believing – that “my” ravens took the time to collect something pretty and meaningful to give to me.
I’m hard pressed to think of another gift that has brought me such joy. These pretty bits of wolf moss are the perfect gift for me.
Thank you, ravens. Your gifts are appreciated, and priceless.
Feature photo: wolf moss (lichen), J. Hollinger, CC 3.0.